Review by Sinroth
I am Nidhogg. Hear me rawr.
From Ensemble Studio, whom you may recognize as having made the cult-favourite series, Age of Empires, Age of Mythology is a fresh new breath of life into the series, and a somewhat interesting spin-off. Being a massive mythology-geek, this seemed like a dream come true. Was it? I'd say so.
The graphics are, what I'd like to say, easy to look it, and pretty damn cool. They're not uber-awesome, but they don't make your eyes bleed either. The units can seem very chunky and "ugly" when viewed up close, especially in cut-scenes, but from afar, it looks smooth, it plays smooth, and there is little to no slowdown. Actually, I don't think I've encountered any. In the map editor, there are a LOT of useful tricks to making beautiful maps, and sometimes, in such maps, you might find yourself stopping to admire the scenery, and wondering how they made it.
The sound is pretty.... meh. To be honest, it's not my cup of tea, but a lot of times, I only found the voices, and sounds of battle noticeable. The background music just didn't seem to be...... there..... Anyways, the voices are nice, clear, and decently acted. The campaign is awesome, I felt myself really liking it, and wanting to know what happened next, despite its seemingly predictable happenings, and absolute chessiness, which you can't just help but admire. The unit responses are said in their native language, which is quite authentic, and helps draw you into the whole game. They lack the wit of games like "Warcraft III", but this isn't trying to be a game injected with humour, despite there being some there.
There are three cultures. The Norse (Vikings), Greeks, and Egyptians (With a few other cultures thrown in for the latter). Based around the tried-and-true concept of Balanced units; slow and strong units; and weak, cheap units made popular all those years ago by Starcraft. For those wondering, the Norse are the balanced ones, the Greeks are the strong ones, and the Egyptians are the cheap ones. Anyways, they each have their own unique units, and they each have their own skills and abilities. One example is how one of the resources, "Favour" is gathered. For the Greeks, you must construct a temple, and assign villagers to "Pray" at said temple. The more praying, the more your "Favour" will slowly trickle in. For the Norse, you have to fight for "Favour". Lastly, for the Egyptians, you must build "Monuments", which will slowly give an income of "Favour" over time.
The Greek are the closest you will get to your average culture. If you've played Age of Empires, or another similar RTS before, you should feel right at home commanding your Hoplites into battle. They have a well-used formula, and are the "newbie" race, that are easy to use. If this is your first time playing Age of Mythology, I would recommend playing these guys. The only thing you really have to learn about, is how they gather "Favour", which is mentioned in the above paragraph.
Second off, you have the Egyptians. These are the guys with fast, cheap guys, and generally rely on swarming their enemies. The spitting image of the Zerg, only with less spit, and more spears. As said, they must build "Monuments" to collect "Favour". However, that's not all. They have a very special unit. That unit is the Pharaoh. This "Favour" effectively serves as a "Hero" unit, but that isn't all. The Pharaoh, when tasked to right click on a building, will effectively increase the rate at what that building "does". For example, if a building is being constructed, if he is tasked to it (this is called Empowering, and I'm going to call it this from now on), it will be constructed faster. If he empowers a mining camp, the villagers mining nearby will mine faster. If he empowers a barracks, technology researched and units trained will do so faster. He quickly becomes a centerpiece of your town, and is one of the most used units in the game.
Thirdly, you have the Norse, or, if you prefer, the Vikings. They gain "Favour" by fighting, as stated three paragraphs up. However, that's not where it ends. Unlike the Greeks and Egyptians, they don't get their villagers (called "Gatherers") to build buildings. Instead, they have their Infantry repair and construct buildings. This really adds a new element of strategy, as you could attack with a giant force of infantry, and have them build fortifications and a forward base to act as defense. It really makes for an epic scenario. Next off, their Gatherers don't drop resources off at the "Town Center", "Command Center", or anything like that. Instead, you must build mobile Ox Carts. These are pretty much Oxen dragging carts around, and the Gatherers will return gold, wood, and food to these. This means if there are two resources near each other, one Ox Cart will mean that you won't have to waste time building "Mining Camps", or "Granaries". So, what this is, is a mobile resource drop site. Lastly, they get a special unit called "Dwarves", which are exactly that, and act as Gatherers, except they make awesome miners, and aren't so good at collecting Food and Wood.
The Gameplay is great with few flaws. I'm not going to lie to you, this is one of those fun games you like to love, that you know is never going to be one of those "legendary" games, akin to the likes of Mario. First off, the resources. There are four resources, three are the same found in the Age of Empires games (Food, Wood, Gold). The fourth, which has replaced Stone, is Favour. This, as mentioned four paragraphs and one section above, is gathered in different ways by each culture. What Favour allows you to do, is create special units, called "Myth Units". These can be made from Temples, and are Mythological creatures, which vary depending on what Gods you worship, and what culture you are. For example, if you are a Greek, and have chosen to worship Athena, you will gain access to her myth unit, the Minotaur. A lot of them have special abilities, and the Minotaurs special ability is "Goring" a Human unit, which sends him flying. Myth Units are generally very strong against Human units, but very weak to Hero units, whom are weak to Human units.
Next off, the "Worship" aspect. From the start, there are three cultures. This is broken down by three major gods that you can choose to worship. As an example, the Greeks can choose to worship either Poseidon, Hades, or Zeus. This will affect bonuses to that Culture. For example, Hades has stronger Archers, while Poseidon excels at Cavalry, and will grant a few technologies and bonuses. An example of this, is that when a building of Poseidon's is destroyed, Militia will appear to attack your enemies, and for Hades, when a unit is killed, they respawn as ghostly Shades. Lastly, this will affect the Minor Gods that you can choose to worship when you advance an Age.
When advancing an Age (Going Archaic, Classical, Heroic, and Mythical), you must choose one of two Minor Gods to worship. Worshiping that Minor God gives you a new Myth Unit that you can build, some new Technologies, and a "God Power", which will now be explained. A God Power is, pretty much, a power granted to you by the Gods. They are one-time things (with the exception of the "Atlanteans" in the expansion), and are generally very powerful. Initially, they start off as simple things, like increasing the rate at which you mine gold (Prosperity), or killing off one unit (Bolt), but by the end of the Mythical Age, you will be granted powers which can summon the mighty Nidhogg (A Dragon), or summon a shower of Meteors (Meteor). These God Powers have incredible uses, and they might not be apparent at first. For example, the God Power "Bolt", can only kill one unit, which might seem useless at first. But when the other cultures invoke "Nidhogg" or "Son of Osiris", the Norse and Egyptians (respectively) gain incredibly powerful units, which might take hundreds of units to eventually kill. A well-preserved Bolt power can kill them instantly. You might be tempted to use them as soon as possible, but save it for a rainy day, and you can cripple your opponent.
Mentioned earlier, each Culture has their own "Hero" unit/s. For the Greeks, you will gain new Heroes with each advancement in age, based on what Minor God you chose (Poseidon gets a new one at the Mythical Age, as well as the Minor God), and they all vary, and are generally famous people from Greek mythology, such as Jason, Theseus, Perseus, and Atalanta. For the Egyptians, you have two. The Pharaoh, mentioned earlier, and the Priest, the latter whom can summon great Obelisks which act in a similar vein to the Outposts from Age of Kings. For the Norse, you gain one Hero, and he is the Hersir. These guys seem pretty useless, but are cheap to produce, and increase with strength with not only Infantry upgrades, but each advancement in age. Each gives their own level of strategy.
The basic premise, for those who have not caught on yet, or may be very new to the Real Time Strategy genre (If that is the case, welcome), the object of the game is generally, to build up your culture, and defeat the computer players, who will also be trying to do so. In the Campaign, or a lot of Scenarios, there may be different conditions, for example, destroying Player X, or bringing a certain unit to a certain area.
There is a Map Editor in the game, and it is very powerful. Moreso, I'd say, than the previous Age of Empires Map Editor. It is somewhat similar to Warcraft III's Map Editor, but not as powerful. It can be quite hard to use, so you may need to search the internet for tutorials on how to use it, but once mastered, it is possible to edit the amount of players playing, the win condition, the strength of units, the landscape, and even making your own in-game cutscenes, which can be anything, from two soldiers talking, to an intricate and greatly detailed battle. There is/was a dedicated map making community out there, and if you take an afternoon to download maps into your Maps folder, there is a lot of fun to be had out there.
Age of Mythology is a great game, and is one that you will like, and should consider picking up if you're a fan of the genre. It can be a little harsh to beginners, so I wouldn't recommend it if that's the case. If you are a beginner to the the Real Time Strategy genre, then I would suggest Age of Empires. It's not that you aren't smart enough for this game, but rather, that the game is very unique, and it can be hard to learn. Even then, since there aren't many Real Time Strategies out there that are similar (I don't know any, but more hardcore fans of the genre may), so you might find yourself frustrated at having to learn how to play another RTS game, which follows a more used format. In short, buy this game if you've had past experience with an RTS, or if you're a fan of the genre.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Age of Mythology (US, 11/01/02)
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